Primitive Fire

Campfire-380x252Starting a fire in the wild is often essential to comfort and survival. When facing the threat of  hypothermia, a source of heat is critical. Fire is also the most common means of cooking and can be used to purify water. While you may never need to start a fire without matches, lighter, or flint stick, it is good to know how to use a bow drill or hand drill. More important is the ability to locate dry tinder and to kindle a fire once you have a source of ignition.

Locally, the best tinder is birch bark, which burns well even when wet. Try to find a dead tree and peel the loose bark. If a live tree is your only source, take small amounts of the outer most layer to avoid killing the tree. In the fall, dry weeds and grasses make excellent tinder, especially milkweed pods. Pine needles and even pinecones burn well when dry. The inner bark of a fallen tree, especially ash, strips out in thin sheets like paper. Dry it in you pocket on rainy days. You can also break standing deadwood to find splinters of dry kindling .

Use a ring of rocks or reflective ledge to confine your fire. Gather plenty of kindling and fuel of different sizes. Use the tee pee design to ensure plenty of air to the flame. Once the coals are hot, you can burn even damp wood, but dry wood burns hotter with less smoke. Hardwoods are best.  A large pile of coals should last until morning. Be sure to put the fire out with plenty of water or sand and dirt before your leave. Stir the coals and extinguish any signs of smoke.

To start a fire without matches, you can try using a bow drill. You will need the right, very dry, material for both the drill and the fire board. You will need a knife to prepare the material and a non-streatch cord for the bow. Technique is essential, so you will have to practice. Start by watching these videos.

You can also use the hand drill method, which requires fewer materials. With some practice, this method can be easier, but it takes considerable technique to get enough down pressure with sustained spinning. It also can be rough on your hands. In our region, the best drill material is mullen, sometimes called lamb’s ear. You need to find a dry stalk from last year’s growth about as big in diameter as your pinky and arms length. It has to be perfectly straight. Here is a video of the hand drill.

Note: I’m not sure why this guy needs an automatic weapon with him to start a fire. . .This is certainly not a primitive tool.